Friday, February 29, 2008


...the owner of an instrument asks us to pull the neck and check the date. And sometimes they are pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

off topic

Teaching our young about goal setting and team building, co-operation and even capitalism (just remember to keep it in its proper place in the Pantheon of What Really Matters) is cool. The venerated Girl Scouts of America get madprops for their annual cookie sale, of course. But we have a bone to pick. The ordering form is studded with reminders of how each cookie contains "0g trans FAT per serving" but scanning the ingredients of the actual box of cookies (in this case the much-loved Samoas) finds "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" in second place. And that means, after sugar, the cookies contain more "trans FAT" than anything else.

What gives???

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

There are thousands of types of guitars...

...and each guitar can have upwards of a hundred parts. Can we have absolutely everything in the shop at all times in case an owner of a 1967 Fender Coronado needs a chrome ferrule for a tuning peg that was lost years ago? No, of course we can not. First and foremost, we don't sell "vintage" parts. That's what Ebay is for. But we do have a lot of aftermarket stuff that fits and does the job. Even so, stocking all of those myriad parts even in a large well-organized and well lit place is dicey. And we are not large.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

rode hard and put away wet....

...left on all day and every day, turned off every night, played through at every volume by every kind of guitar player...what hasn't our test amp heard?

Friday, February 22, 2008

once in a lifetime

This perfect Gibson Les Paul guitar was manufactured in 1959. Purchased in 1961 for something around $300US, this instrument recently changed hands. The original owner had to let it go. There was drama but now the waters have stilled somewhat.

We're lucky: we get to see some very cool guitars.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

take it apart & put it back together

This 1981 Hamer has a paint job that makes it look like it's going 100 miles an hour while standing still. Trevor is in the midst of the set-up by hand that follows the completion of a computerized fretmill (aka PLEK). The saddles on the bridge were somewhat corroded so he's taken them off and is painstakingly cleaning each part before reassembling the bridge prior to intonation. And that's included in the set-up package, at no extra charge...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

stock design insufficient? modify!

The person who owns this tele plays in such a way that his hand consistently runs into the 3-way pickup select blade switch, inadvertently knocking it out of position. The modification is to install a Gibson-style pickup select switch in a different location on the top of the guitar, which is pretty straightforward. What makes this particular modification interesting is that Glade is required to find some way to make the slot where the blade switch was not look like an empty space. Glade's solution is to cut a small piece of fretwire to fit the slot, which he then rounds & smoothes to make it look pretty. Glade is the Guitar MacGyver.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

So we broke one of our own rules...

Typically we don't work on mandolins but this instrument is a special case requiring special talents. Tim is heat bending a piece of maple prior to laminating it onto the carved-out area of the headstock and neck of this mandolin. The purpose of this time-consuming process is to strengthen the area between the headstock and neck so that when impact stressors* occur the instrument will be less likely to break again. If you look closely you can see the prepared area of the mandolin just behind the heat bender. After the cut-down piece of maple is affixed to the instrument it will be shaped by hand using Japanese woodworking tools. This is the same process we use for guitars with broken headstocks. Only, since it's a mandolin, it's in miniature.

*In chemistry, a stressor is something that either speeds up a reaction rate or keeps the reaction rate the same. Stressors include light, temperature and elevated sound levels.

Friday, February 15, 2008

modifying the device voids the warranty

Not only do we care for guitars & basses both acoustic & electric, we also attempt to assist in the maintenance of the good reputation of almost every major (and most of the minor) guitar builders and manufacturers in North America. Here we have an example of a hidden part of the process. After a customer was required to bring his newly online purchased instrument in a second time (the braces and top were separating from the body) the manufacturer sent us a new body that we then affixed to the original neck, making the guitar playable. When we queried the manufacturer regarding return of the clearly defective part they declined, suggesting that we could "have a little fun" with the original body. While we certainly take little pleasure in this kind of behavior, and do not make a habit of doing everything we are told, this seemed like a good opportunity to appropriately give physical expression to anger over life's often frustrating details.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Guitars are tools to make music...

...and planes are tools to make guitars.

While in Japan last year lucky Tim met Tomohito Iida, owner of a highly respected tool shop in Osaka. After returning to the States he decided to order a handmade 70mm smoothing plane (shown here). The plane is made using a kind of steel called tamahagane (sometimes translated as "jewel steel") that is used to make Samurai swords. To make this smoothing plane a thin layer of the tamahagane (the cutting edge part of the tool) is forge-welded to a heavy iron backing. The iron used is from links of nineteenth century anchor chain. You can't make this stuff up. Mr. Iida obtained the tamahagane from a swordmaker in Shimane and provided the material to master blacksmith Tsunesaburo in Miki who then created the tool. Spending the amount of money on a single tool that many people ordinarily spend on a monthly rent for a studio apartment here in San Francisco may seem excessive. But only to those whose lives are not defined by wood. And isn't your guitar worth that?

Saturday, February 9, 2008


...a guitar comes through the shop that changed the world (of music that is). This is one such guitar. You feel a little funny holding it, like history and time are pivoting upon your finger at that exact moment. Like a door could open and you could slip through without being able to find your way back.

Would that be okay with you?

Incredibly busy at the shop today, but we still have time to run a DVD of "Pootietang" on the Imac G5.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Using the right tool for the right job

This ancient object, superseded long ago by modern digital technology, still occupies a position of honor on the workbench. Besides, you never know when you might need to break all Old School on a wiring harness. 

Thursday, February 7, 2008

There is no answer to the question "why?"

Our job is clear: to return this guitar to a semblance of normalcy. Tim will build up the edges of this giant hole in order to accept a piece of wood he will carve to match the curvature of the back. It's unlikely that the customer will desire us to match the color of the fabricated wooden backplate to the color of the guitar but, if he does indeed want it, we can do it. The circuit board will be tucked away in the Museum of Forgotten Parts, located in the Hall of Odd Guitar Ideas.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

People like to make their own guitars...

...and it's not a simple thing. The relationship of wood to metal to electro-magnetic signal path (to say nothing of the essential philosophy of how disparate parts work together to make a coherent whole) calls for not a little luck. Here Leo & Trevor are supplying some luck to two homemade guitars; instruments that carry a strong level of emotional resonance for their creators.

Friday, February 1, 2008

a modification

This strat is owned by a gent who strings his instrument with extremely heavy gauges (13-60), floats the tremolo (the base of the bridge pivots slightly above the top of the guitar enabling up & down movement) and currently isn't able to intonate the individual bridge saddles so that the guitar will play in tune. Gary has installed a thin shim on the sidewall at the end of the base of the neck pocket in order to push the neck very slightly away from the bridge. This way the instrument will intonate. This particular model of guitar was never intended to be played with such large strings. With this modification the guitar now intonates correctly and still plays well.